This year has been chaotic to say the least, particularly in terms of enmity between certain countries and the possible fall-out of that bad blood. At the end of October, news outlets published Japan’s defense minister stating that North Korea’s nuclear and conventional weapons program was at a “critical and imminent level”. This came after a spat between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in which the latter called the former a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” only for Trump to respond with the threat of total destruction. Many of us are wondering just how serious these threats are. While comedians joke about the spat and numerous amusing memes appear online, many of us are mulling over the possibility of nuclear destruction. And so, it’s only fitting that today we are comparing two countries involved in the ongoing verbal conflict, in this episode of the Infographics Show, Japan vs. North Korea.
We’ll start with North Korea, a country that has a population of around 25 million. In spite of there not being that many North Koreans – less than the population of Tokyo’s metropolitan area – a staggering 7,679,000 people are ready to fight if called on. It is the largest military in the world in terms of personnel. 5,889,000 people act as a paramilitary force, while 1,190,000 are active military personnel and 600,000 are reserves. Exact numbers differ according to different sources, but all agree that the country’s emphasis of military first (known as Sogun) is real enough. According to Newsweek in 2017, all North Korean adults are conscripted when they are 17. Men must serve 10 years and women around seven years. Those that get a place at university can do their time in the military after university, and certain scholars can get out early. Newsweek claims science students may only have to serve three years.
In comparison, Japan’s military is very small in terms of personnel. The country has around 250,000 active military personnel, with another 57,900 people acting as reserve personnel. Japan does not have military conscription. The question we might ask here is, “What’s more important? The size of your military, or what you do with it?” According to Forbes in 2017, Japan is the 8th biggest spender on defense at around 46.1 billion dollars. This is around one percent of Japan’s GDP, although it was reported in 2017 that this one percent spending cap will soon be scrapped.
As for North Korea, it’s reported that the country spends a massive 22 percent of its GDP on its military, which is around $10 billion. Another thing is, we really don’t know how much the country spends as it’s famously, or infamously, a very secretive nation. As an Amnesty International East Asia researcher put it in 2017, “The size and capability of the military are virtually impossible to verify, but the huge commitment to nuclear capability means citizens suffer in other areas of life.” Other areas of life might suffer, but so do the country’s soldiers, according to The Guardian. The newspaper wrote in 2015 that many North Korean soldiers survive on a few potatoes a day and if they don’t die in service, they often become very weak. “North Korea may be the worst place in the world to do military service,” said the story, and if that is true, it is something we cannot ignore when we compare militaries. On the other hand, most media outlets in the west state that Japan’s military is one of the best trained in the world. So, you decide, does size matter?
Let’s now have a look at what each military has in terms of firepower.
According to Global Firepower, the North Korean Army has around 6,600 tanks, 4,100 armored fighting vehicles, 2,250 Self-Propelled Guns, 4,300 Towed-Artillery and 2,400 Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems. This is a lot of land artillery, which was mainly built-up throughout the Cold War. Attacking North Korea by land, analysts agree, would be no small feat due to its numerous hardened artillery sites, or HARTs, which are equipped with a lot of weapons. Conversely, National Interest published an article in 2017 doubting the strength of North Korea’s large tank force. This includes old Soviet T-55s and Chinese-variant Type 59s. It also includes the better North Korean designed Chonma-ho, although pundits don’t see this as a threat to other modern battle tanks.
Japan has some of the best machines on caterpillar tracks. Its full land force consists of 678 Tanks, 2,850 armored fighting vehicles, 202 self-propelled guns, 500 Towed-Artillery, and 99 multiple launch rocket systems. This includes the Japanese-made Type 10 Main Battle Tank and Type 90 Main Battle Tank.
In the air, Japan has the advantage again, employing in its air force some of the most modern aircraft ever created. Not surprisingly, as Japan is one of the USA’s closest allies, Japan likes to shop in the U.S. arms store. Japan owns the highly touted – but not always in battle condition – American-made F-35 Lightning II. The country just has one at the moment, but another 42 have been ordered. Japan also has a large fleet of American F-4 Phantom IIs and F-15 Eagles, as well as its homemade and very advanced Mitsubishi F-2. Unless North Korea has a trick up its secret sleeve, Japan has a much more ferocious air force. The somewhat dated 940 aircraft in the North Korean air force is left wanting. The fleet consists of 40 Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrums, 105 MiG-23 Floggers, and 35 Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoots.
In the water, pundits say a similar thing again regarding North Korea: that its machines are outdated and the fleet is in need of a total overhaul. This ageing fleet consists of 0 Aircraft carriers, 4 frigates, 0 destroyers, 6 corvettes, 78 submarines, 528 coastal defense crafts, and 23 mine warfares. Japan has the upper hand again, with one aircraft carrier, 35 destroyers, 51 frigates, 35 corvettes, 31 mine warfare, 3 amphibious transports, 8 nuclear attack submarines, and around 50 conventional attack submarines. According to military analysts, Japan’s Aegis class guided missile destroyer alone is a force to be reckoned with.
This brings us to missiles. What exactly does North Korea have and what are the capabilities of its missiles and missile launchers? Well, we’ve discussed this in-depth in another show, and to be frank, the world is not exactly sure what North Korea is capable of. We know the country is perfecting its missile launches, having launched 22 missiles in 15 tests since February 2017. That included the fourth of July launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, to show the world its missiles could reach practically anywhere. The USA is a target as North Koreans believe the U.S. wants to remove the country’s leader and free the people from what it deems an oppressive form of government. Japan certainly has more to worry about being so close, but still no one knows exactly how many nuclear weapons North Korea has.
Japan doesn’t have its own nuclear weapons, although of late, defense policy makers have said perhaps it’s time to put U.S. weapons on Japanese soil. The U.S. already knows Japan is no slouch, with the professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College saying in 2017 that, “Pilot for pilot, ship for ship, Japan can stand toe to toe with anybody.” U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has also vowed to stand behind Japan and South Korea, stating in September this year, “We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea,” but he added “We have many options to do so.” This support from the U.S. makes a huge difference if anything should ever happen between Japan and North Korea, but let’s hope it doesn’t.
So, who do you think would fare better in this virtual matchup?